A bill aimed at making it easier for mid-career professionals to become teachers cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when the measure cleared the House Education Committee.

The proposal, House Bill 310, won approval without objection and next faces action on the House floor.

The session ends on June 6.

State Rep. Wayne McMahen, R-Minden and sponsor of the bill, said crafting new pathways into the teaching profession can address a statewide shortage of educators, especially in rural areas.

Others said the changes could also boost the number of male teachers and black teachers.

"I just think this is an opportunity for us to score some pathways and bring some qualified teachers back into the situation," McMahen said.

The legislation would benefit college graduates who failed to earn a high enough grade point average, or GPA, to gain admission into a teacher training program.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would set rules for new applicants based on their work experience.

Those that qualify could then pursue a teaching certificate either through a post-baccalaureate program or by entering an alternative certification pathway.

Erin Bendily, assistant state superintendent of education, noted that teaching candidates also have to pass two exams that measure teaching and content knowledge and spend one school year in the classroom working with a mentor.

"We hope that by opening the pool of applicants that will allow us to recruit a more diverse workforce, absolutely," Bendily told the committee.

A shortage of teachers is both a state and national problem.

In Louisiana one in five classrooms is led by a teacher who is either uncertified or teaching outside their field.

Forty percent of teachers quit in the first five years.

The only dispute in the committee focused on where to set GPA rules for teaching candidates who pursue a master's degree.

State Rep. Polly Thomas R-Metairie, proposed requiring that those students earn at last a 3.0 GPA in the first 12 hours.

Thomas said that, since the applicants are those who had less than stellar academic records as undergraduates, failing to earn a 3.0 initially means "they may not have the academic prowess" to obtain a master's degree.

Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee, objected to Thomas' proposal.

Smith said a student who earns a 2.0 GPA in the first 12 hours may finish with a 4.0 GPA "because life happens."

The Thomas amendment failed 4-5.

The bill was backed by the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.